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Fatty Acids 101

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Original post: September 16, 2010

Essential fatty acids are one of the most commonly misunderstood categories of nutrition. Food and supplement manufacturers often send out unclear and occasionally blatantly incorrect information. The right fat blend protects health and helps build long-term resistance to illness. The wrong ratios will slowly but surely contribute to illness. Supplementing with the wrong ratios of fatty acids for short periods may provide short-term benefits, but the long-term effect can be detrimental.

Fatty Acids 101

Understanding the value and the concept of essential fatty acids is critical to good health. There‘s no refuting it. Omega-3 fat supplements, such as EPA and DHA derived from cold-water fish (and Krill), deliver the building blocks for healthy cell membrane structure, vigorous receptor site status, and good hormone balance. These fatty acids are essential for good health; they‘re essential for life, and they are often called ―essential‖ because the body can be faced with a condition whereby it cannot make them. But they are not really essential fatty acids by the definition of the term ‗Essential Fatty Acid‘. They are named more appropriately ‗Conditionally Essential Fatty Acids‘. If the cells are faced with nutrient deprivation, a genetic anomaly, or a sluggish metabolism, the cells cannot produce these fatty acids at an acceptable rate even if the essential fatty acids were to be supplied abundantly by the diet. If these conditions slow the cell‘s natural process down, EPA and DHA must be supplemented to make up for the shortfall – conditionally essential. (refer to the fatty acid flowchart diagram)

Fatty Acids 101

We expect the cells of the body to manufacture the longer-chain, nonessential fatty acids like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from the short-chain, essential fatty acids that food has provided. In the dog and cat, the Omega-6 linoleic acid is converted into the Omega-3 linolenic acid which is then used to make the Omega-3 DHA and EPA.

Following these conversions in the flowchart provided allows for a better understanding. Humans cannot convert the linoleic (Omega-6) into linolenic (Omega-3) like cats and dogs can. For humans linoleic (Omega-6) and alpha linolenic (Omega-3) acids must be supplied by the diet – they are both essential in the classic definition of the term. For dogs, linoleic (Omega-6) acid is the only essential fatty acid which must be supplied by the diet. Cats are different again whereby two Omega-6 fatty acids are essential – linoleic acid and arachidonic acid.

In all these species the DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids (which can be supplied abundantly by cold water marine oils) are nonessential but can be required as conditionally essential if the essential fats or metabolic efficiencies are limited. However, treatment of a condition with fish-derived oils to administer DHA and EPA without considering a supply of the essential fatty acid doesn‘t make sense at all. We must also supply the essential fatty acid which the body needs to make the very DHA and EPA we are supplementing so it is equipped with the building block to catch up with DHA and EPA production on its own. It also needs this base nutrient for other metabolic and structural functions. Again, in dogs and cats this essential is the Omega-6 fatty acids while humans need both the Omega-6, linoleic acid, and the Omega-3, alpha linolenic acid. When we supplement these fatty acids we are influencing the body‘s production of specialized hormones by altering the proportion of these fatty acids in the diet. Ultimately we are changing the production proportions of hormones called prostaglandins (PGE) or eicosanoid hormones of which there are many and different classes. The classification of these hormones relies, in part, on the fatty acid source. Again, the accompanying flowchart represents the conversion path of these essential fatty acids providing a visual snapshot of this process. If we or our animals lack the Omega-3 fatty acids a tendency or predisposition for inflammation can occur due to a relative overload of PGE2 which advances inflammation.

However, if we blast the body with Omega-3 supplementation from fish oils to promote the PGE3 production shown in the flowchart we can help neutralize inflammation through better balance between the inflammatory PGE2 and the relatively anti-inflammatory PGE3. This balance is created through two mechanisms: one is the greater availability of the PGE3 precursor to make more PGE3 and the other related mechanism is the use of enzymes for this Omega-3 conversion which makes the same enzymes unavailable for the conversion (desaturation) of the Omega-6 fats into those inflammatory prostaglandins (PGE2). As a result of this activity more PGE1 is produced from the essential linoleic acid instead of more PGE2 accumulating from the same building block.

Balanced supplementation blocks excessive PGE2 (inflammatory prostaglandins) production while producing more of the relatively anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. However, if the Omega-6 fat, linoleic acid is not concurrently supplied we can create an imbalance in the other direction limiting PGE1 production. PGE1, derived from linoleic acid, plays important roles and its limitation can result in metabolic problems. To name a few roles: it‘s involved in nerve impulse propagation, neurotransmitter conveyance, intestinal health and smooth muscle activity.

Fish oils will not supply sufficient quantities of the essential Omega-6, linoleic acid. The two classes of fatty acids must be supplemented at the same time in order for the production flow of these two hormone classes to ensue at a balanced rate due to the enzyme influence each class – Omega-3 and Omega-6- has on the other. Together these different classes of hormones produce harmony in the body. If one of these two classes of fatty acids is off balance or missing in the diet, the cells will produce an imbalanced hormone status. B level heading] These Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids are Rarely Supplied by Food

At the root of this fatty acid dilemma is the processing of food which destroys these essential fats due to the high heat and extensive oxygen exposure. This heat and oxygen exposure also destroys the natural antioxidant levels in the food stripping the food of the elements which protect the fats naturally and preserve the genetic activity within the cells designed to use these fats. As described in Appendix 2, Oxidation 101, oxidation accelerates the genetic activity responsible for COX activity advancing the conversion of Omega-6 fatty acids to hormones which have inflammatory activity. Exaggerated inflammatory activity is a function of multiple misaligned forces; an imbalanced Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid status in the cells forming a state which is preloaded for inflammation; and another is elevated oxidation in the absence of proportionally opposing antioxidant activity which unnaturally accelerates the genes responsible for converting this preloaded fatty acid status into inflammatory hormones.

These adverse forces are both advanced by processed foods and poor diet. Analysis of a food supply may indicate that these foods have abundant and even excessive amounts of the Omega-6 linoleic acid to meet essential fatty acid needs. Maybe so, but processing and storage of the food eventually damages the delicate structure even though the Omega-6 category (more stable molecule) of the fatty acids can tolerate processing a little better than the Omega-3 fatty acid can. Supplementation must address each level of the metabolic need in order to completely solve the limitations, antioxidant intake included. Fatty acid health in the body also depends on key vitamins and minerals which can also be compromised in processed food. These micronutrient cofactors often make up important components of enzymes involved in the cellular metabolism of fatty acids and other macronutrients

Research conducted to evaluate the two categories of fatty acids – Omega-3 and Omega-6 – proves they are both needed concurrently in supplementation regimes despite the base food source. Presence of the Omega-6 linoleic acid limits enzyme activity on the Omega-3 side of the flowchart. This Omega-6 fatty acid load uses up the enzymes needed by the Omega-3 fatty acids for desaturation from alpha linolenic acid to DHA and EPA. The same is true in reverse whereby the Omega-3 DHA and EPA tie up the same desaturase enzymes to ensure that Omega-6 conversion to the inflammatory hormones (PGE2) is moderated. Taken together, they keep each other in check. One study showed that the health improvements resulting from supplementation with the Omega-3 DHA and/or EPA can slowly revert back in time to the diseased state. This is often what consumers report anecdotally as well. While the study group using a supplement which included Omega-6 linoleic acid sustained long term results beyond the point that reversion took place with the Omega-3-exclusive group. There is a need to improve a health condition with immediate correction of the imbalance using the Omega-3 fatty acids such as those from fish oils. However, according to these findings we must also provide the root building block fatty acid – the true essential Omega-6 fat, linoleic acid and in the case of humans, Omega-3 alpha linolenic acid- in a biologically live form which has not been damaged by food processing so it can be used to restore self-sufficiency. The key to long term health is self-sufficiency. [B level heading] Aging and Essential Fatty Acids An aging metabolism can result in slower production of the Omega-3 DHA and EPA fatty acids in the tired cells as well; another condition which leads to the DHA and EPA fatty acids being Conditionally Essential as supplements. In fact, studies show that neuromembrane DHA levels can decline significantly with age contributing to neurological impediments as basic as memory loss to clinical illnesses like schizophrenia.

Lack of DHA in the brain cells has also been linked to temperament impediments and even aggression. Brain tumors are found to have much lower DHA levels than normal brain tissue. As we and our companion animals age internal antioxidant production can decline (see Antioxidant expansion copy if more detail is desired). An age-related decline of antioxidant levels in the cells can make omega-3 fatty acids vulnerable. Since the highly unsaturated EPA and DHA are more vulnerable to oxidation than even the base essential linoleic and alpha linolenic fatty acids, a lack of antioxidants allows them to be destroyed by cell-borne free radicals. We require antioxidant and DHA and EPA supplementation in higher concentrations as we age.

In addition to having the right amount of the right kind of fats, the fatty acid supplements must be supplied in the right proportion or ratio with other supporting nutrients to ensure that the desaturase enzyme activity is moderated. Marine oils must be combined with plant seed oils in the right combinations to meet the specific ratios of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids that we need In the case of dogs this proportion is different and in cats its different again. This precise ratio supplies those root building block essential fatty acids. Salmon oil alone does not supply relevant amounts of the Omega-6 essential fatty acid, linoleic acid. Additionally, the support nutrients which themselves are Essential Nutrition, such as vitamins, minerals and protective antioxidants should be supplied concurrently.

If the dietary choices or the digestive process has contributed to polyunsaturated fatty acid limitations in the body it is also likely that these limitations have contributed to other nutrient deficiencies which should be addressed in the form of general vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplementation. A comprehensive blend of vitamins, minerals, and phytoantioxidants can be supplemented daily with the fatty acid supplement to fulfill this need completely and maximize the cells` ability to handle these fatty acids in the appropriate way. B level heading] Precise Fatty Acid Profiles Your dog needs a precise ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats to produce a precise hormonal cascade. You need a different one. A very important fact to keep in mind is the species-specific needs of essential fatty acids. Too many products in the pet sections of stores today are relabeled products which were originally designed for human use. After all, if it‘s good enough for you and me, it should be good enough for Fido. Not true.

I cannot highlight enough that the essential nutrient needs for our canine companions are quite different from our own and the fatty acid category of nutrition is one that differs immensely. Again, you and I need the diet to supply the essential fatty acids linoleic acid (Omega-6) and alpha linolenic acid (Omega-3) as the chart on the next page outlines. From these essentials our cells should be able to produce the downstream compounds although we can benefit from some additional DHA and EPA supplementation due to common metabolic hiccups which often lead to limitation. B level heading] Krill Oil Delivers Powerful Inflammatory Correction. Krill oil seems to be one of the most potent polyunsaturated fat sources for therapy available in supplemental form. Although it‘s new and not that popular right now, krill oil has groundbreaking research behind it that will expose its powerful benefits and make it one of the most treasured therapeutic and preventive substances available. One of the features which makes krill oil a preferred Omega-3 source is its inherent phosphatide component, its high DHA and EPA content, and its healthy natural omega-7 and omega-9 contents.

Krill also delivers a natural antioxidant feature which, not only protects these fatty acids from oxidation, it also acts as a COX inhibitor to block inflammatory prostaglandin hormone production (PGE2). Krill‘s EPA and DHA is naturally esterified by flavonoid antioxidants which intimately protect the fatty acid and provide better molecular stability.

This translates into preservation of the pharmacological benefit. Typical cold water fish oils such as salmon, tuna, sardine and mackerel supply their Omega-3 payload in triglyceride form. This crude molecule requires digestion in order for the phosphatide or fatty acids to be freed and available for cellular use. Krill‘s payload of phosphatides is absorbed more easily than triglycerides by the human gastrointestinal tract. The Omega-3 fat in krill oil in proportion to the omega-6 fat is high—about 30 to 1—which makes it a great offset for the typical North American diet. This highly concentrated ratio is one of the features which makes it a preferred therapy when it comes to chronic inflammation and treatment of autoimmune disease.

Although the Omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, is essential to man and must be abundantly supplied in the diet, our diets tend to supply reasonable quantities of this nutrient. As described earlier, Omega-6 fats tend to generally be more stable than their Omega-3 equivalents as the diagram conveys. Research on autoimmune conditions indicates that administration of the Omega-6 fats in supplemental form can further aggravate autoimmune conditions while Omega-3 DHA and EPA significantly down-regulate the activity. This same research also demonstrates that too much of the beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, ALA, DHA and EPA can also inhibit normal immunity interfering with antigen adhesion to antibodies and lymphocyte death. Although most cold water fish oils can provide these precious fats abundantly for disease prevention, therapy presents a greater demand which is better met by a source of Omega-3 fatty acids which is more readily assimilated and more abundantly available. Properly extracted and preserved krill oil fits the bill and it allows for more accurate dosing to treat these conditions with prcsision.

The phosphatides in krill oil are the perfect food for the nervous system— the brain, the spinal cord, and the peripheral nerves—and they include healthy levels of phosphatidylserine, choline, ethanolamine, and inositol. Omega-9, oleic acid, is the cardiovascular protective fat found in olive oil and krill oil supplies it abundantly as well. Krill has one of the first natural marine flavonoid antioxidants to be found with a protective potential that‘s far more powerful than that of common plant-derived carotenoids employed to quash the nasty peroxynitrite radical. This free radical is at the center of inflammatory disease and its neutralization affords us inflammatory control.

This is especially powerful for gastrointestinal inflammation. What‘s more, krill oil‘s astanxanthin antioxidant value is surprisingly as much as 80 times greater than that of vitamin E. Not only is this unique antioxidant component protective of the fats it comes with, guarding them during processing and storage, it‘s been shown to deliver significant antioxidant protection for the entire body; activity which helps combat inflammation and the cell damage associated with uncontrolled oxidation and inflammation. Krill oil also contains natural vitamin E and it delivers a naturally high dose of synergistic selenium and zinc. Vitamin E depends on selenium for maximum antioxidant potential and the immune system, including the skin depends on zinc for optimal activity. The more the immune system is engaged, the more selenium, zinc, vitamin E and other antioxidants it needs to fulfill its duty accurately and efficiently.

The latest research demonstrates that properly extracted krill oil has a profound influence on C-reactive protein. Elevation in C-reactive protein is indicative of metabolic havoc and pro-inflammatory state. In fact, C-reactive protein in patients at risk for cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory ailments, including autoimmune disease, is a common marker of subclinical inflammation which may be festering quietly. A measure of C-reactive protein allows us to evaluate the status of an autoimmune disease. A higher C-reactive protein indicates active disease and the level of the measurement is proportional to disease activity.

Krill oil helps defuse this loaded state to reduce the intensity of an inflammatory bout or reduce the risk of flare up altogether. Research demonstrates that daily administration krill oil which is extracted to contain a preferred ratio of the Omega-3 fatty acids and the antioxidant and COX inhibitive component can significantly mitigate C-reactive protein and improve threshold for active disease – a perfect factor in the treatment of autoimmune disease or other sources of chronic inflammation. Combining the precise herbal extracts of curcumin and boswellia with krill oil is powerful pharmacology against inflammatory disease. By balancing the Omega-3 status in the cell through krill administration and concurrently circumventing elevated oxidation and cytokine over-activity with the mentioned target-specific herbal preparations (precise polyphenol extract of curcumin and boswellia serrata), autoimmune disease is easily managed without the need for intrusive drugs.


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